‘There’s A Good Deal That’s Very Strange’ About The Trial For The Men Who Tried To Kill Malala

by BEENISH AHMED –

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A court in Pakistan sentenced 10 men to life in prison for their involvement in a 2012 Taliban-led gun attack on teenage education rights activist Malala Yousafzai who was the Nobel Peace Prize last year.

While the assailants could be released after 25 years, one analyst told ThinkProgress that the harsh sentencing of people not directly involved signals a “tough on terrorism” stance — albeit one Pakistan only selectively deploys against politically convenient targets.

Unnamed security sources told Reuters that none of the four men who carried out the attack on Yousafzai were among the 10 sentenced on Thursday. “But certainly,” a police official said, “they had a role in the planning and execution of the assassination attempt on Malala [Yousafzai].”

The 10 men arrested by Pakistani authorities in September 2014 confirmed that the Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah was the mastermind of the attack on Yousafzai in which two of her schoolmates, Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz were also injured. Police believe the gunmen have fled into neighboring Afghanistan along with Fazlullah. They remain at large along with several others wanted in connection to the attack.

According to a lawyer from the local District Bar Association, “there were no open hearings.” Local journalists were not aware that the trial was even taking place.

Neither Yousafzai nor the organization she heads, the Malala Fund, has yet spoken publicly about the sentencing, but her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, said in a statement when the 10 men were arrested in the Swat Valley:

“This first step of apprehending Malala’s attackers signifies the beginning of real hope for the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been affected by terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in Swat and the whole country. We greatly appreciate the efforts of the security forces and police in bringing these men to justice and fighting for the reestablishment of peace. This is the beginning of the real restoration of the writ of the government, where the rule of law and justice prevails for all.”

While it seems like a positive sign for Pakistan’s efforts to combat domestic terrorism, Marvin Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute told ThinkProgress, “There’s a good deal that’s very strange about this.”

“First of all, the 10 who have been sentenced for these long periods of time, it’s admitted that none of them were responsible for the attack on Malala…so one has to view that as sending a message of how they’re going to be treating Fazlullah’s people in a very tough way,” he said, but added that the message didn’t quite convey because of the secrecy around the trial itself.

“If you’re trying to make a statement to the international community, why wasn’t this a highly publicized trial?” Weinbaum asked, noting that it’s quite likely that publicity “would have created too much blow back and protesting against it because of the mixed feelings in the public about whether Malala’s attack wasn’t, as the conspiracy theories go, wasn’t after all, an American scheme.”

And the treatment of what Weinbaum calls “secondary figures” in the attack on Yousafzai stands in stark contrast to the case of a very high profile terrorist with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist organization, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. The suspected mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks which killed 164 people in the Indian megacity was released on bail from a Pakistani jail earlier this month.

“This is the message it would like to send the world: it’s tough on extremists. And yet, what we’re witnessing here is that it’s very selective,” Weinbaum said. “If someone has a popular following like the leaders of LeT, they’re likely to find ways to avoid bringing these cases to trial, but if you get people who are associated with [the Pakistani Taliban] which is officially at war with the state, then there’s no problem because you’ve already declared war on Fazlullah and his crowd so you can do what you want against his people without a fear of a public backlash.”

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress